This backgrounder explains the significance and risks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See each question and answer included in this backgrounder on the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the bottom of this post.

Any war is a tragedy. The Ethiopian civil war that has been ongoing since November 2020 is a tragedy. So is the civil war in Libya. The ongoing conflict in Yemen continues to rage. Why is the world so focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and what is different about this war?

Stated simply, wars of aggression in Europe have a history of turning into very big wars with terrible consequences for the wider world. Europe has a long history of infighting since the 16th century. Most recently, World War I and World War II both came about after aggressive states clashed into the commitments of previously established national alliances, which worked to hold the peace of Europe together – until they didn’t.

From economics to international relations, the post-World War II order was literally constructed to help reduce the potential for new European conflicts. That order worked for the past 75 years, even throughout the Cold War when the Soviet Union was the antagonist against the US and the democratic west.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shattered that order. While there have been other European conflicts, such as the Balkan Wars after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the rules and designs of the post-World War II order prevented such conflicts from escalating.

This war smacks an all too familiar tone from history when an aggressive state actor, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, invades a neighboring state that assumed protection through alliances with other great powers. This time the alliances of NATO and the European Union are the secondary actors that could be sucked into the fight. To be sure, Ukraine is not part of NATO, but the potential for such membership has triggered Russian aggression and the rest of the world’s alarm.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is significant because of the standards and rules that that invasion has violated. Those rules represented an international order that stood for nearly a century and prevented the enormous outbursts of violence that consistently repeated before the establishment of that order.

Now that Russia has violated the international order, the world stands in the dangerous terrain where any number of events could escalate the conflict into something much worse. We have not been here before – at least not since World War II.

Learn more about the background and facts behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine through this set of backgrounds and explanations. Subscribe to the blog to stay up to date when new backgrounders are posted.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at